Tsunami Danger Close to Home?


Tsunami used to be term North American kids learned in science or for spelling bees. But, two major tsunamis in the past 10 years have heightened awareness of what they are and about the real danger around the globe. Now, the US government wants to increase awareness of tsunami danger close to home through the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program and declaring this Tsunami Preparedness Week.

A tsunami is a series of ocean waves caused by seismic activity that forms a wall of water that can travel across an ocean. Nine years ago, an Indian Ocean tsunami killed more than 250,000 people in several countries after a 9.3 magnitude earthquake. Three years ago, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake off the Japanese coast generated 30 foot waves and killed almost 16,000. News footage of the devastation remains indelible in minds.

It is hard to picture a similar situation in California or other states, but it can happen and has. The earthquake in Japan did cause tsunami waves to hit the US. A 2010 quake in Chile caused millions of dollars of damage to harbors along the Pacific Coast. The largest tsunami to hit the country was after the 9.2 Alaska earthquake on March 27, 1964. It left wakes of destruction and death, killing 130 people killed in Alaska, Oregon and California. With all the coastal construction since then, a similar event would be catastrophic.

A tsunami could strike somewhere on the US coast at any time. While the giant wave cannot be stopped, timely warnings and evacuation plans can mitigate the impact. For Tsunami Preparedness Week, several government agencies at the federal and state level are partnering to promote awareness of the tsunami danger that exists close to home and encourage people in coastal areas to get prepared. In conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the Alaska quake and tsunami, there are awareness events planned in each coastal state. There will be emergency drills conducted Wednesday and Thursday following three different earthquake/tsunami scenarios to ensure different parts of the country take part.

Government organizations taking place include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Weather Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Geological Survey. Governments in coastal states, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and other regional agencies are also participating.

Many local areas are also having events to education residents about the danger in their area and evacuation routes. In addition, there are numerous brochures and materials on the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program site.

Just like the hurricane warnings that are issued, there are levels of tsunami warnings. An Information Statement, the lowest level, just reports that there is a potential tsunami elsewhere in the ocean that is no threat here. A Tsunami Watch means a distant seismic event occurred which may create a tsunami and to stay tuned. A Tsunami Advisory means there are strong current or waves that have been created by a seismic event, but widespread damage is not expected. The highest level, a Tsunami Warning, means widespread inundation is coming and evacuate to higher ground; unfortunately, the time to prepare after a warning depends on how close the earthquake was to that coastal region. The key thing is to know an earthquake along the ocean, whether close or far, could potentially bring the tsunami danger home.

By Dyanne Weiss


National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program 

National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program 

National Weather Service

National Weather Service

Los Angeles Times

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